Union staff fighting merger of hospitals Liberty, Bon Secours deal likely to cost about 275 jobs

December 02, 1998|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

Unionized hospital workers at Liberty Medical Center met at Orchard Street Church last night to find ways to block the proposed merger of Liberty and Bon Secours.

About 70 employees represented by the Service Employees International Union District 1199 EDC and members of the Professional Staff Nurses Association turned out for the meeting.

The workers fear that their jobs will be cut if the plan to eliminate all beds at Liberty goes through. The plan would also demolish the old Provident Hospital building on the Liberty campus to make way for assisted-care residential units.

Zoning approval for the demolition and new construction is being considered by the City Council.

"The workers always seem to be the easiest people to displace when things don't go the way the company wants them to," said Bob Moore, president of Local 1199. "People say there is an excess-bed capacity. I call it mythical. It's been state policy to try and force smaller hospitals out of business."

Ernest R. Grecco, president of the Baltimore Central Labor Council, also addressed the crowd and said labor officials had lobbied the City Council last night to put off voting on the demolition issue until January.

Said Grecco: "They shall not take our jobs and we're going to fight like hell to make sure they don't do that to you."

Bon Secours Baltimore Health System announced in early November that it would end inpatient care at Liberty Medical Center as it consolidates all inpatient beds at Bon Secours Hospital. The two hospitals are less than three miles apart.

Consolidation requires regulatory approval. The state Health Resources Planning Commission will review the merger's impact on access to care, cost and quality of service, with action on the merger possible by February.

Under the plan, Liberty, which is owned by Bon Secours, would retain its emergency room, outpatient services and medical offices. It would add a dialysis unit, a geriatric psychiatry program and senior day care and housing units.

The consolidation, slated to take place next fall, would eliminate about 275 jobs, the health system estimated, and reduce health costs by $85 million over five years. Both hospitals have shown slim operating profits.

Liberty, with about 300 employees, is licensed for 282 beds. It had 88 patients on an average day in the fiscal year that ended June 30, while Bon Secours, licensed for 208 beds, averaged 79. Hospital analysts expect occupancy in all Baltimore hospitals to drop by another 30 percent over the next few years as Medicare moves more beneficiaries into managed care plans.

By operating so far below capacity, the hospitals are expensive for patients. Bon Secours is 15.8 percent more costly than the state average, and Liberty is 10.3 percent higher than the average, according to state regulators, who have been pressuring both facilities to bring costs down. Because it is difficult to offer some specialized services, such as nuclear medicine, in a hospital with fewer than 100 patients, both Liberty and Bon Secours were in danger of losing services.

Money saved in the consolidation can be used to develop and subsidize other services for needy communities, said Jane Durney Crowley, chief executive officer of Bon Secours Baltimore.

According to a study done by the health system, the six ZIP codes in West and Northwest Baltimore from which the hospitals draw the most patients have an average per capita income of $9,920 per year.

The health system said it chose Bon Secours as the inpatient site because of recent renovations to the hospital. Liberty would have required some $20 million in improvements were it to get all the beds, the system said, while Bon Secours -- whose original 1919 building on Fayette Street is still in use -- will need $2.7 million.

Liberty is a successor to Provident, which opened in 1894. Provident was essentially taken over in 1986 by Lutheran Hospital in a merger that formed Liberty.

Pub Date: 12/02/98

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